Neuroscience and Behavior Program

Jamie Longwell
Graduate Admissions Coordinator
238 Burnett Hall

Core Faculty

Rick A. Bevins

Kathy Chiou

Nicholas Hubbard

Ming Li

Tierney Lorenz

Maital Neta

Cary Savage

Jeffrey R. Stevens

Ken Wakabayashi

Graduate Students

Johannah Bashford

Emma Brase

Kirstin Clephane

Zach Cole

Isabel Kuebler

Kathleen McNealy

Kevin Miller

Jayson Schalk

London Wolff

Mengjiao Zhang

Josh Zosky

Area Adviser: Dr. Jeffrey Stevens


Welcome to the homepage of the Neuroscience and Behavior Ph.D. Program in the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Broadly speaking, faculty research interests include comparative cognition, decision making, learning and memory, executive function, memory suggestibility, drug abuse, genetic basis of addiction, antipsychotic drugs, and animal models of schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. We pride ourselves on a low student to faculty ratio where graduate students work very closely with faculty on research projects. In addition to this close mentoring model, we are able to offer highly individualized programs of study that can be tailored to fit the student's interest and career goals.

Along with tailoring graduate training to fit the research and career goals of the trainee, students are exposed through instruction and collaboration to interdisciplinary and translational approaches to many of the pressing question in the study of neuroscience and behavior. Such training is enhanced through our affiliations with Eppley Cancer Center at University of Nebraska Medical Center and the VA Hospital; Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Program in the School of Biological Sciences; the Behavioral Health Program of Excellence in Sociology; the Substance Abuse Research Cluster (SARC); the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior (CB3); the Rural Drug Addiction Research Center (RDAR), as well as the many collaborations faculty have with other researchers throughout the globe.


The faculty in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program welcome applications from students with undergraduate majors in psychology as well as those from a variety of related areas, such as animal science, biology, neuroscience, pharmacology, etc. Successful applicants to our program typically have previous research experience with experimental animals (rats, mice) or human neuroscience. Because of the diverse research interests of our faculty members, applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the faculty members with whom they are most likely to work and identify them in their application. In addition, please check the department graduate student admission requirements.


Like other programs, the Neuroscience and Behavior program offers M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Psychology. Typically, all graduate students are admitted directly into the doctoral program but earn the Master’s degree as part of their Ph.D. program. We have an overview of the Ph.D. path and the Department Grad Handbook to guide progress.

Graduate training is governed by the Graduate Chair and the Graduate Executive Committee. Upon admission, each graduate student is assigned an advisor in the program. A doctoral Supervisory Committee is approved for each student by the Graduate Executive Committee prior to the completion of 50% of the student’s course work. A Supervisory Committee must include at least three members consisting of professors from our department, as well as at least one member consisting of a professor from a department outside of our department. The Supervisory Committee has responsibility for designing the student’s program of study and supervising the implementation of that program through the completion of comprehensive examinations and/or other approved demonstration of mastery of the discipline and the doctoral dissertation project.


The Neuroscience and Behavior Ph.D. program is specifically designed to be flexible in terms of matching specific research interests of a given student. Therefore, the specific course requirements beyond the core requirements of the Ph.D. program are determined by the students’ advisor along with a Supervisory Committee.

Department course requirements
  • Quantitative Methods for the Behavioral Sciences I and II (PSYC 931 and 932): 6 credits
  • Program's proseminar (Physiological Proseminar for N&B): 3 credits
  • One other psychology graduate course (900 level) outside of your program: 3 credits
  • Human diversity course: 1 credit
  • Ethics course: 1 credit
  • Teaching Methods for Psychology (PSYC 974): 1 credit
Program course requirements
  • Fundamentals of Neuroscience and Behavior (PSYC 912A & 912B): 6 credits split over two semesters
  • Professionalism and Ethics in Neuroscience and Behavior (PSYC 913): 1 credit (satisfies department's ethics requirement)
  • Diversity and Equity in Neuroscience and Behavior Research (PSYC 914): 1 credit (satisfies department's human diversity requirement)
  • Physiological Proseminar (PSYC 904): 3 credits (satisfies department's program proseminar requirement)
Example course schedule

First year fall

  • Fundamentals of Neuroscience and Behavior (PSYC 912A) or Professionalism and Ethics in Neuroscience and Behavior (PSYC 913): 3 credits
  • Quantitative Methods for the Behavioral Sciences I (PSYC 931): 3 credits
  • Teaching Methods for Psychology (PSYC 974): 1 credit
  • Research Problems Other Than Thesis (PSYC 996): 2 credits

First year spring

  • Fundamentals of Neuroscience and Behavior (PSYC 912B) or Diversity and Equity in Neuroscience and Behavior Research (PSYC 914): 3 credits
  • Quantitative Methods for the Behavioral Sciences II (PSYC 932): 3 credits
  • Research Problems Other Than Thesis (PSYC 996): 3 credits

First year summer

  • Research Problems Other Than Thesis (PSYC 996): 6 credits

Second year fall

  • Professionalism and Ethics in Neuroscience and Behavior (PSYC 913) or Fundamentals of Neuroscience and Behavior (PSYC 912A): 1 credit
  • Grad-level psychology course outside of Neuroscience and Behavior: 3 credits
  • Research Problems Other Than Thesis (PSYC 996): 3 credits

Second year spring

  • Diversity and Equity in Neuroscience and Behavior Research (PSYC 914) or Fundamentals of Neuroscience and Behavior (PSYC 912B): 1 credit
  • Physiological Proseminar (PSYC 904): 3 credits
  • Research Problems Other Than Thesis (PSYC 996): 3 credits

Second year summer

  • Research Problems Other Than Thesis (PSYC 996): 6 credits

After the second year, the coursework should drop off as you focus on your research. But, given the diversity of research and student interests, additional course work may include specialized reading courses, as well as other core courses offered in other departments.  For example, students specializing in animal behavior might take one or more of the core courses in the School of Biological Sciences’ program in Ecology, Evolution, or Behavior.  Students specializing in behavioral neuroscience might take core courses in other departments that teach advanced pharmacology, neurobiology and immunology courses.  Additional courses in quantitative methods (e.g., Multilevel Modeling in the Behavioral Sciences--PSYC 944) are highly encouraged, and the department offers a concentration in Quantitative Methods requiring 18 hours of quantitative coursework and a quant-related comprehensive exam.

Students in the Neuroscience and Behavior program are required to be continuously engaged in research, which often includes credits in a research course each semester such as PSYC 996 before completing your comprehensive exam and PSYC 999 afterwards. These courses should be used to fill in your schedule to reach 9 credit hours per semester (6 in the summer). At some point, you will likely switch exclusively to these courses to fulfill your credits.

Master's and PhD degrees

To obtain a Master's degree, a student typically chooses Option B. Under this option, the student must earn a minimum of 36 semester hours of credit, at least 18 of which must be earned in courses open exclusively to graduate students (900 or 800 level without 400 or lower counterparts). The program must include not fewer than 18 hours in the major. Visit the Graduate Studies Catalog for more information on options and for forms and deadlines. The Master's is typically defended by the summer of the second year.

Students with a Master's degree in a related area admitted in the PhD program will be able to transfer some coursework. Transfer credit is determined by UNL Office of Graduate Studies policy and the Neuroscience and Behavior faculty.

The PhD program normally takes five years for completion. To meet the doctoral degree requirements, a student needs to complete 27 hours of graduate work within an 18-month period (15 of which must be presented that are not related to your master’s degree if you did your master’s work at UNL), finishes final examination (oral defense of dissertation work) and submit his/her dissertation at least three weeks before the final oral examination. For information on PhD requirements, visit Doctoral Degree Requirements.


All graduate students in the Neuroscience and Behavior program are supported by department teaching assistantships and/or by research assistantships from faculty grants. We provide a highly supportive environment that encourages students to also seek support through UNL scholarships and fellowships, as well as extramural agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.


Coordinator: Dr. Rick A. Bevins

Research in the BEHAVIORAL NEUROPHARMACOLOGY LAB bridges areas of neuroscience, pharmacology, psychology, immunology, and animal learning and cognition. With the motivated effort of exceptional graduate and undergraduate students and the consistent support of the Psychology Department, the School of Biological Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, and extramural funding agencies such as NIH, we have made great progress in answering important questions related to drug abuse. In this research effort, we use preclinical animal models to understand factors involved in the development and maintenance of drug abuse. This research includes assessment of factors affecting the ability of drug cues to acquire new meaning and hence control over behavior. Other research effort focuses on novelty and sensation seeking, learned associations between environmental cues and abused drugs (source of cravings), and immunotherapy (vaccine) techniques against drug addiction. For more detail, we invite you to explore the laboratory via our website.

Expertise and interests: behavioral pharmacology, learning, substance abuse, nicotine, methamphetamine

Coordinator: Dr. Kathy Chiou

The focus of research in the CLINICAL NEUROSCIENCE AND NEUROPSYCHOLOGY LAB is to identify and understand how neurological injuries affect complex, higher order cognitive functions. We are specifically interested in constructs such as metacognition, self-awareness, cognitive control, and learning/memory. Current projects in the lab utilize structural and functional neuroimaging methodologies (e.g., fMRI, DTI), experimental behavioral paradigms, as well as traditional neuropsychological assessments to investigate these cognitive deficits in human adults with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). We hope to translate findings from the lab to clinical applications such as the development of new tools for improved assessment and rehabilitation of cognitive deficits in TBI.

Expertise and interests: traumatic brain injury, neuropsychological assessment, diffusion tensor imaging, fMRI, metacognition

Coordinator: Dr. Nicholas Hubbard

The NEUROCOGNITIVE TRANSLATION LAB aims to advance fundamental theory and cultivate cutting-edge methods within cognitive neuroscience to better understand and predict mental abilities and patient health outcomes. We accomplish these aims through the study of typical and abnormal biopsychological phenomena. The NeuroCognitive Translation Lab applies expertise from behavioral, brain imaging (e.g., fMRI, DTI, fNIRS), and computational (e.g., machine learning, network analysis, pattern analyses) techniques to answer two research questions: (1) What can our neural and psychological signatures tell us about our mental abilities?, and (2) How can we better measure and interpret these signatures for predicting human health outcomes?

Expertise and interests: brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience, memory, prediction, translational neuroscience

Coordinator: Dr. Ming Li

The BIOPSYCHOLOGY LAB is primarily interested in the neurobiological and behavioral mechanisms of action of psychotherapeutic drugs (e.g. antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants and anxiolytics), neurobiology of maternal behavior, and co-morbid substance abuse in mental disorders. We take a preclinical approach using pharmacological (e.g. selective agonists or antagonists), neuroscience (e.g. immunocytochemistry), genetic (e.g. viral vectors), and behavioral techniques to address research issues in these fields. Current studies explore psychobiological mechanisms of antipsychotic action, serotonin systems in maternal behavior and nicotine use in schizophrenia. We also have done work in evaluating new chemical compounds that may have therapeutic potentials for mental disorders. The models used in this lab include both unconditioned natural behaviors (e.g. social interaction, maternal behavior, locomotor activity, ultrasonic vocalizations, forced swim test, elevated plus maze, startle reflex, etc.), as well as conditioned behaviors (e.g. two-way conditioned avoidance response, fear-potentiated startle, etc.). The laboratory is equipped with 10 two-way conditioned avoidance shuttle boxes; 16 locomotor activity monitoring boxes; 4 forced swim test system; 6 startle reflex systems; a cryostat; and a stereotaxic instrument.

Expertise and interests: antipsychotic drugs, maternal behavior, serotonin, dopamine, motivated behavior, schizophrenia, postpartum depression

Coordinator: Dr. Tierney Lorenz

The WOMEN, IMMUNITY AND SEXUAL HEALTH LAB investigates the ways that sexual behavior impact women's immune and endocrine function, as well as ways to help women with mental and/or physical health conditions have happy, healthy sexual lives. We also focus on helping survivors of sexual trauma through basic science and clinical research. Our research draws from evolutionary and feminist science perspectives, and uses methods from multiple fields, including measures of hormones and immune markers, psychophysiological measures of sexual and autonomic arousal, clinical trials, surveys and interviews.

Expertise and interests: sex/gender differences, women’s health, sexual behavior, trauma, depression, hormones, inflammation, minimally invasive biomarkers

Coordinator: Dr. Maital Neta

Research in the COGNITIVE AND AFFECTIVE NEUROSCIENCE LAB capitalizes on a number of methods from psychology and neuroscience to examine ambiguity resolution in the domain of emotional facial expressions. Specifically, although some expressions provide clear predictive information that something good (e.g., happy) or bad (e.g., angry) will happen, other expressions, like surprise, have predicted both positive (e.g., birthday party) and negative (e.g., car accident) events for us in the past. When presented in the absence of contextual information, these ambiguously valenced expressions can be used to delineate a valence bias: ambiguous stimuli are stably interpreted negatively by some people and positively by others. The working hypothesis in the lab is that positivity requires regulation.

Expertise and interests: affective neuroscience, emotion regulation, individual differences

Coordinator: Dr. Cary Savage

Dr. Savage's research in the HEALTH NEUROSCIENCE LAB examines brain health, including the neural processes underlying health behaviors - for example, staying physically active and maintaining optimal body weight and strength – and the reciprocal impact these choices have on long term brain health. The human brain is highly impacted by behavioral choices that affect overall body health yet it is also the agent of health behaviors. Healthy behaviors are in part difficult to maintain because they are less immediately gratifying and the benefits of healthy behaviors emerge over time. He is also interested in brain health broadly, including how brain activity mediates health behaviors (e.g., diet and physical activity), modifiable risk factors for dementia, and cognitive changes and recovery from brain injury (e.g., concussion, stroke).

Expertise and interests: neuroimaging, MRI, functional MRI, health behavior, brain injury

Coordinator: Dr. Jeffrey Stevens

The CANINE COGNITION AND HUMAN INTERACTION LAB focuses on understanding both dog cognition and how interacting with dogs influences human behavior and cognition. Our research follows the bounded rationality approach, which explores how organisms with limited time, information, and computational abilities make adaptive decisions. We use theoretical, experimental, and comparative methods to model and empirically investigate the cognitive processes organisms use when making decisions. One of our research topics explores the cognitive mechanisms, such as patience and accurate memory, needed to implement decision strategies in cooperative situations. Another research topic develops and tests process-based models of intertemporal choice. We also investigate questions of risky choice, quantification, timing, memory, and social networks to help understand how humans and other animals make decisions in an uncertain world.

Expertise and interests: animal cognition, cooperation, decision making, dogs, impulsivity, patience

Coordinator: Dr. Ken Wakabayashi

The NEUROCIRCUITRY OF MOTIVATED BEHAVIOR LAB focuses on understanding the fundamental processes in the brain underpinning reward-seeking behavior, and how these systems can become hijacked by drugs of abuse, ultimately resulting in addiction and alcoholism. He addresses this at a neurocircuit level by integrating animal behavior, in vivo neurochemistry and genetic approaches to manipulate and observe subgroups of neurons to examine the brain mechanisms of motivation.

Expertise and interests: addiction, alcohol models, genetic targeting, in vivo monitoring, motivation, neurochemistry, neurocircuittry, reward seeking


Robert Belli (Emeritus Professor in Neuroscience and Behavior)
Alan Bond (Biological Sciences)
Mike Dodd (Cognitive Psychology)
John Flowers (Emeritus Professor in Cognitive Psychology)
Dan Leger (Emeritus Professor in Neuroscience and Behavior)
Dennis McChargue (Clinical Psychology)
Dennis Molfese (Emeritus Professor in Neuroscience and Behavior)
Gary Pickard (Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)
Anne Schutte (Developmental Psychology)
Patrica Sollars (Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)
Scott Stoltenberg



I hope we have sparked your interest in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program. If so, application information can be obtained via the web or send an inquiry to Jamie Longwell at Feel free to send any general questions about the Neuroscience and Behavior Program to Dr. Jeffrey Stevens, the Neuroscience and Behavior Program Area Coordinator, at Interest in a faculty and his/her research program should be sent directly to the individual.